ENGLAND’S last great tennis hero Tim Henman has been making a comeback in Oxford.
But the former tennis star was not warming up for a return to the turf of Wimbledon’s Centre Court, instead offering expert advice to a trio of promising young players.
Stepping off court at the David Lloyd tennis centre at the Oxford Business Park in Cowley on Tuesday, he admitted: “It’s the first time I’ve played since March.”
The Oxfordshire-based star was there as an ambassador of the Jaguar Academy of Sport, which offers bursaries to outstanding young players.
He had an hour-long session with the three Jaguar Rising Stars from across the UK, including 20-year-old Richard Green, who plays in a wheelchair and hopes to represent Britain in the 2016 Paralympics.
The former British number one said there was nowhere else he would rather be than on the training court, even with the traditional Wimbledon curtain-raiser under way in London at Queen’s Club.
He said: “I miss just one per cent of it. I miss walking out on to Centre Court at Wimbledon. But not the other 99 per cent – all the training, the tournaments, the travelling – I don’t miss any of that.”
Since 2007 he has been enjoying ‘retirement’ with his wife Lucy and their three young daughters in the village of Aston Tirrold, near Cholsey, where they set up home eight years ago.
Henman reached four semi-finals at Wimbledon between 1998 and 2002, and in 2001 came within a mere two points of reaching the final.
England football manager Roy Hodgson has recently talked about the pressure of representing England in the Euro 2012 tournament.
But every summer for most of his playing career Henman had to carry the hopes of the nation by himself.
Asked if the weight of expectation must have been heavy, he said: “Not in the faintest.
“I played my best tennis at Wimbledon. Pressure is self-inflicted. I never read the papers and was never interested in what people thought.
“I played for myself at the end of the day. If you stopped to think about the 15,000 in Centre Court, 10,000 on Henman Hill and 15 million watching at home, you couldn’t play.”
At 37 he remains close to the game, working as a commentator for the BBC. He now faces the question “Can Andy Murray win Wimbledon?” as often as he was once asked: “Is this your year then, Tim?”
But has news reached him that Scottish star Murray is hoping to line up a boxing contest with him?
Murray reportedly said: “Tim has started boxing a little so I wouldn’t mind having a go at him. Henman v Murray – that would be fun.”
Grinning broadly, Henman said: “In the neighbouring village there is a local boxing club.
“I’ve been working with a trainer with boxing pads. But only to keep fit. The world of boxing doesn’t have to worry about me.”
After Wimbledon, he is looking forward to the London Olympics, having competed in Sydney, Athens and Atlanta, where he won a silver medal playing doubles in 1996.